How can theatre make the world a better place?


Convener(s): Abigail Graham

Participants: Jack Kloff, Nicola Stanhope, Louise Platt, Malcolm Rippeth, Alex Thrope, Judith Knight, John Walton, Siobhan O’Kelly, David Luff, Poppy Burtin Morgan, Bill Banks-Jones, Chris Grady, Eva Liparova, Stephen Darcy, Samuel Wood, Matthew Austin, Erica Whyman, Kate McGrath, Annie Rigby, Alan Cox, Amelia Bird, Felix Mussell, Rachel Lynes, Sian Reen, Alice Massey, Jo Mackie, Timothy Bird, Mia Flodquist, Rebecca Manson Jones.


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Theatre can change how you feel. E.g. Madame Butterfly – made people more sensitive to each other (even if only for a moment).

The very act of making theatre means that every night a show happens, actors are connecting to audience members and making a difference. If people are open to it.

The ‘water cooler’ effect of TV series means that theatre is no longer unique in it’s communion quality. But, it involves investing time (and usually money), you cannot switch channels etc, so as a result of this investment, it makes it more of an effective medium in terms of bringing people together to respond collectively.

Also, the observer affects the work, making it and that energy flow…and we can capitalize on this to help make the world a better place/

BUT we need to get more (different) people in to make ‘the world [more of] a better place [quicker]’! (N.B. The access debate is dealt with further down the page)

If we believe what we are doing is good, and we do it to the best of our ability then it can be transofmative, therefore making people behave differently to each other (THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT) 

Boal changed the polititcs oif his country through forum theatre. How can we do that here? As we have a class based capilitalist society, is that even possible?

It will take a long time. That’s ok.

Our work does not need to be overtly political to affect change [spiral dynamics]

As Ghandi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’

‘Issue Based Theatre’  -  good stuff like Belarus Free Theatre…after the show people went home and signed the petition. Ruined by Lynn Nottage made people sign up to amnesty. BUT a well made Romeo and Juliet can make us remember that feuding is bad.

But Theatre, like other cultural mediums, has a value in and of itself, it enriches us, it makes us laugh, it makes us feel…how do we as artists maximise that effect? As the Swedish PM said ‘If I have to cut theatre, then I’ll have to build more hospitals’]

We really need to improve theatre’s image as lots of people ‘don’t like it’…we can, as Northern Stage (NS) has done involve the community in the making of shows. Lots of those people came back. NS also did a free season in their studio and then a ‘money back guarantee’….nobody apart from a uni lecturer’s group got their money back (you have to give a reason….even if it is only ‘it was shit)

BASICALLY, this shows that theatre is a bit of an unknown…people doent know what they are getting so are a bit unsure about investing in it.  Schemes like this make that easier. Therefore making the whole business of making the world a better place more far reaching.

Other things that can help is marketing…show people having a good time, audience feedback on twitter, facebook, youtube. Use film (like Contact’s pre cuts filmn) to show it’s power. 

Let’s have theatres open all day, places you can hang out in as well as see shows in. Don’t tell kids to be quiet. Make all experiences good and positive.

Why do people feel able to call modern art shit but when it comes to theatre say ‘I don’t understand it’?

Take theatre out of buildings on to the streets, into other spaces (e.g. NS Apples in a nightclub)…the number of seats in all the theatres in the UK is a tiny (less that 1%) proportion of the number of people in the UK. We need to make it reach more people. In doing so, we will change theatre’s image, making more people come, and therefore making the world a better place that bit quicker.

Please can we make every young person’s 1st experience of theatre excellent. That way they will want to come back. It’s not just the work, it’s from the second you enter the door. Lets not engage them through just school as teachers tell them to be quiet so they nare unable torespond honestly to what they see…therefore lessening the experience.

Let’s engage non-theatregoers in the process (the appetite to take part is greater than the appetite to watch)...But participation can lead to new audiences (in the case NS show The Happiness Project)

We are still recovering from the idea that theatre is good for you (and that still puts people off) Maybe we could just ask people what they want to say and how they might like to say it. You change the world every time someone speaks who wouldn’t have otherwise have spoken. Giving the community a voice through theatre; mixing the professional and non professional experience; making people feel the theatre is a place for them too; they may come again to see something else.


Glasgow Citz, pay 50p…even if you are only there to stay warm, you came and you stayed. And you came again.

Let’s tell people this is about you (come and see it).

Do not market to the converted. 

Offer an experience. Entice them with food.

Ask how people feel (not think as that puts people under pressure) before and after. Use that in marketing?

- E.g Unsure à Excited

Small steps, make a gradual change in 1 audience member at a time.

The way we tell our stories can make a difference.

We need to up our game as the world is getting worse quicker than we can make it better.

Get figures like Gandalf to offer public support for Belarus, Dame Judi on Forests etc.

Make theatres a place for civic debate. Get people in the doors. Invite them in.

Channel 4 group have subversive radical voices in their programming…how can we get them into theatre (C4 has public funding) and give them a voice, making theatre more pluralistic, getting more people in the doors, making the world a better place.